• Part 1

    Theoretical perspective and experimental perspective in science: the methodological status of behaviorism; operant behavior and schedules of reinforcement; verbal behavior and B.F. Skinner's perspective. (video 24 min)



  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 1)

    1/8 «Science, in the end, is theoretical systematization based on experiments. Without systematization, the experiments may not have an unambiguous meaning. All the natural sciences show us this basic requirement, which scholars in the social sciences, also behaviorists, seem hesitant to accept unreservedly. But aiming only at the experiment, leaving aside a theoretical framing, results in a misrepresentation of the experiment, because an experiment can't be properly fitted, if it remains not identified a restricted field of inquiry. An experiment consists precisely in cutting out of reality a very narrow field, by identifying some basic variables, and keeping out all other many variables that can have an effect on the experiment - i.e. delimiting, both in theory and in practice, the boundaries of the experiment.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 1)

    2/8«Pavlov put into action what is the fundamental character of a scientific experiment - which was pointed out by Galileo and by Newton too, and that in the end proved to be fundamental for physics - according to which the experiment cuts out from the outside world a closed or isolated system of inquiry totally controlled with reference only to the variables taken into consideration and leaves out all the other possible variables. Experiments in physics (even the earlier ones carried out by Galileo and Newton) and in all sciences are of this kind. However, this presupposes that the variables taken into consideration, and which are obviously related by a function, must be themselves inserted in a wider theoretical context. It is not that from a merely experimental consideration of variables, we can draw something. Well, what we can draw depends on the theoretical context within which we frame the experiment.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 1)

    3/8 «By studying, by making experiments, we establish that stimuli do condition all our behaviors. What are these stimuli? Evidently, there must be various typologies of stimuli, various "gradations" of stimuli, from the simpler (basic) - the experimental ones - to the more complex ones, which have not yet been fully and rigorously experimented. Actually we have experimented only fairly simple schedules of reinforcement. Even those that could seem more complex are still simple, linked to the basic needs of the organism.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 1)

    4/8«What we call "awareness", "self-consciousness", "rationality", "scientific rationality" - in common sense, in common language - in behaviorist terms express more complex schedules of reinforcement that humans, slowly, have been able to find out - according to the common-sense experience or, from Skinner onwards, experimentally. These are complex schedule of reinforcement, that we should start studying.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 1)

    5/8«We must research for complex higher-level schedules of reinforcement. I would call them "nth-level schedules". In our experiments we usually use first-level schedules of reinforcement, which are directly connected to elementary behaviors. Here I'm talking about higher schedules, namely more complex schedules than the first-level ones. That is to say, we must build a "stratification" deriving from subsequent operations of partition (each one qualified by a specific property); in any case, a set of sets.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 1)

    6/8«How does science work? We start from the basic levels of analysis, which are the elementary ones, and then, by successive partitions, we find out more and more complex predicates. And we can do conversely, too. This topic about the levels of partition is quite complex. I guess it's really important, and it should be applied in the behaviorist scientific context. This effort has to be done.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 1)

    7/8«Language is given by schedules of reinforcement linked to processes of interpersonal conditioning. Therefore we must, first of all, explain interpersonal conditioning. And I have attempted to do it, starting from an experiment by Herrnstein - neglected by some scholars - with two pigeons. The noteworthy one, where in order to eat, they had to behave in such a way that one pigeon did something, allowing the other to eat, and the other did something else, allowing the first one to eat, too. Let's overlook now the details of the experiment - of which few have talked about - which is the fundamental experiment of social interaction. I have explained that this experiment involves schedules of reinforcement more complex than the basic ones. And so, we must explain this: the social interaction.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 1)

    8/8«To sum up, first: we have isolated the concept of stimulus. Second: we have - within the more general set of stimuli - we have isolated the social stimulus as a specific behavior of another subject. Third: among the specific behaviors of the interacting subjects, we have isolated the linguistic stimuli, i.e. the specific linguistic behaviors of these subjects. After we isolated the linguistic stimuli, we must define them in syntactic and semantic terms. But the linguistic stimuli must not be confused with the schedules of second, third, fourth level. Language does not explain, but it allows us to organize and transmit our explanations and operations. This is, in brief, what the language is: it is a communication tool, which obviously is related to the the laws of operant behaviors - as it is a set of operant behaviors.»


  • Part 2

    Some methodological problems in the experimental analysis of behavior: homogeneity between variables and the isomorphism between behaviors and schedules of reinforcement; higher-level schedules of reinforcement; reinforcement and social interaction: cooperation and conflict. (video 21 min)



  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 2)

    1/7«Complexity can be defined by the relational concept of schedule’s level founded on the partition first applied to the basic schedules. We should work to construct this ordered set of schedules, to identify schedules from a theoretical, abstract point of view; it's a working hypothesis. Since science without theoretical hypotheses, cannot advance. Then we should identify them also - but I think this is an issue on which we can work - identify them also experimentally. From an experimental point of view, however, we should use certainly organisms which are complex, or more complex than the animal organisms which are usually used in "current" experiments. So... This is an opening - from my point of view, according to the paradigm that I develop - it is a very important opening, which has to be advanced on the theoretical level. Otherwise we stall.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 2)

    2/7«Actually, behaviorism runs the risk of stalling for want of outlets. That's the main point: it seems without outlets. To be clearer, it has "operational" outlets - let's say - but operational outlets which always make use of low-level schedules. In the field of autism and other phenomena, too, the intervention strategies are founded on low-level schedules. It's acceptable there, because somehow it works. But we must also understand complex behaviors. And we can't understand them with those schedules. Here I definitely pose a problem of method: the composition of the extant experimental schedule is too simple. We must find out the composition of a schedule - of an experimental schedule – that allows us to study complex behaviors, if it's true that all behaviors are conditioned by stimuli.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 2)

    3/7«We should speak of a sort of isomorphism (bijective omomorphism) between schedules of reinforcement and behaviors (in a structural perspective). Each schedule should match exactly a behavior, by definition. In actual fact it isn't, because of the learning process, and the learning process is related to the learning curve that has a certain structure. However, according to the abstract theoretical hypothesis, we have the schedule and, given the theoretical schedule, we must have the theoretical response, too. So, there's an isomorphism between theoretical schedule and response. Then it's obvious that pigeons' response is different, as they must learn. But a person, a living organism as complex as the human one, gets acquainted with the schedule and adapts to it at once, if the schedule is suitable for her/his cultural level.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 2)

    4/7«Summarizing these problems, we have: "frictions" in learning (when the experimental curve deviates from the theoretical one) and the adequacy of schedules to the past history. But these problems alone don’t explain why behavior is repeated in recurrence of identical or similar situations. In this case the independent variable must be found in the same behavior, in a specific type or modality of behavior. To do this the (operant) behavior must be divided into instrumental behavior and the last element closing the behavioral chain (consummatory behavior in basic experiments). The latter is indeed the independent variable.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 2)

    5/7«A behavior theory based on controlled experiments allows us to critically analyse all the researches currently carried out on the behavior - on the economic behavior, for example. They all are claiming, starting with Kahneman and Tversky, that they are discovering natural laws of behavior. But those behaviors are learned on the cultural level. The fact that subjects don't behave rationally - in the sense of the economic rationality - means that the order of preferences is altered by temporal dimensions or by how the choice is presented - positively or negatively, in the Tversky's and Kahneman's perspective. In all these instances the results depend on the cultural context. That's all.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 2)

    6/7«In a social sciences integration perspective (that I bring forward), if we refer to the relationships between organisms - applying all these concepts to sociology or social psychology - I find that all human behaviors can be reduced to two basic schemata: positive or negative involvement, explaining (in close connection with the science of behavior) cooperation and conflict. So, it isn't that people can invent new regularities of social interactions: any organism or human either conflicts or agrees with another organism or human. There's no other... even if it's about primitive humans, even if it's about the early cave people. It's a question related to the social schedules of reinforcement. When we put two living organisms together, either there's positive involvement of interests or there's negative involvement. It depends. So I identify these two situations and I derive from them all the network of complex social behaviors.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 2)

    7/7«We must go in search of the laws of operant behavior that are few and limited. The others aren't regularities of behavior, not even the pseudo-economic laws - despite, since '800 and '900, it was believed those were “imprinted” in the brain as natural regularities. Also now, there's the idea that these laws should be found in the brain, according to neuroeconomics. But it isn't so, because humans often behave inconsistently with economic rationality, which must be learned. As a matter of fact, people learn the market, people learn market economics and then people - by studying it with second, third level schedules - are able to theorize it.»


  • Part 3

    Perspectives and developments in the field of scientific analysis of behavior: behaviorism and its relations with cognitive psychology, economics, neuroscience, psychiatry. The need of a theoretical advancement in the scientific study of human behavior. (video 21 min)



  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 3)

    1/5«My view on behaviorism is positive, because behaviorism is the only scientific perspective which makes it possible to explain the behavior - with all the limits of science, of course, as we can't ask for more than it can explain. It already tells us that all our behaviors are learned and strictly influenced by the stimuli; thence it has already explained a lot. Next, of course, we should construct the whole theory. We should first eliminate all the problems attributed to the pre-scientific construct of “mind”, deeply rooted in common sense, which finds some ambiguous spaces between Neurobiology and Behaviorism. “Mind” is a naïve overlap of common sense to science. Science locates only the central nervous system (CNS) and the behavior as the two fundamental reference points. […] To overcome this situation it's necessary to systematize the syntactic and semantic aspects of the neurobiological and the behavioral languages, in order to establish their isomorphism and avoid the error that the brain is the cause of behaviors. This is one of the main problem we must address.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 3)

    2/5«So we can look at the organism as a whole: we can see the organism from outside, as a set of behaviors, and from inside, as a set of neurons. This means one thing, which I am not sure has been well understood, at present: it means that we can operate on the organism in two ways. One is to modify directly the CNS; another is to change behaviors by means of behaviors. However, this does not make CSN the cause of behaviors; the CSN is a kind of “mirror” of the behavior and conversely. We have two "systems" acting in parallel: organisms interact with the environment at the same time and similarly with behaviors and CNS. We can affect one or the other: if we affect one of them, the other changes, and vice versa. It's a kind of equivalence, of isomorphism that should be taken as a postulate, once we have reached the formalization of the two languages.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 3)

    3/5«Humans are able to distinguish between costs and benefits. When the benefit is delayed in time, we should put on it the same relative "value" we put on it at the very moment when we compare it with the cost (plus the standard cost of waiting). If the time delay alters this value (regardless of the standard cost of waiting) then there is the deviation from what it is called (economic) "rationality" to other states of "non-rationality". But we must have more complex schedules (i.e. natural and social environments), because if we have to adapt to the most common and widespread schedules of reinforcement, it's natural that, to us, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush - to make a remark also to risk-propensity schedules referring to the increased strength of a small but certain reinforcer, than a greater but uncertain one. […] We must teach people (at a much more complex level) that the benefit, albeit delayed in time, must have (for economics or legal agreements) the same relative value it has - or it would have - if it were considered at the very moment when costs are considered. This is the basis of much of the economic reasoning and the basis of all the current experiments on economics. It's a matter of learning.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 3)

    4/5«If we start from a theoretical postulate that behaviors adapt to the environment, it must be admitted that if we apply the schedule of reinforcement, then it must determine necessarily a behavior strictly conforming to this schedule. It's a modification of the experimental environment to which the organism must adapt. Why this does not immediately and instantaneously happen? Because of "frictions". In more general terms this speech can be extended to all science, as science develops also by identifying “frictions”. Science and technology are also an enrichment of the basic context of knowledge which is obtained by constantly expounding new "frictions", i.e. adding new subsets to the scientific language. It's a matter of hidden variables ("frictions"). That's the experimental analysis.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 3)

    5/5«First of all, we must have - as Galileo and Newton - the abstract schema: the strict and direct correspondence of the schedule to the behavior (that the schedule, that the behavior). Then we wonder: why doesn't that happen? Then we come up with a huge set – which we must isolate - of frictions, considered in this case as hidden variables that hinder the immediate learning, namely of variables that, by constraining the context, prevent the subject from behaving as he/she should behave. Knowledge of these variables, among other things, allows us also to "cleanse" the experimental analysis and to recognize the more abstract context.»


  • Part 4

    Science of behavior and social issues: some observations on democracy, market, education; limits and potentialities of applied behavioral analysis. (video 34 min)



  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 4)

    1/13«The democratic system depends in effect on the generalized culture (in the anthropological sense) or rather on the set of social behaviors steadied in a given society. That said, since democracy is often understood and carried out in a variety of different ways, what are the most general reinforcement schedules that characterize the Western democratic system? In democracy every individual has, in political terms, the same "value" of any other individual, bar none. We assign a political “value” to individuals, whatever the real differences - which do exist - among them, in terms of specific sequences of behaviors they carry out. Within the context of historical and political common sense, the variety of “opinions” takes the form of “need” for “freedom” and is recognized as a legal status by the democratic system. Unfortunately, the balance between the “need” for “freedom” and the “need” for stability in our democratic systems is very difficult to achieve.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 4)

    2/13«Political behaviors, like all behaviors, are more reinforced - lacking appropriate schedules – by immediate rather than mediate rewards (due to the increased commitment required to reach the final element of an instrumental behavioral sequence). This also occurs when the relation between two benefits is such that a personal benefit can be acquired only if another corresponding collective benefit is given up, or conversely if a waiver of a personal benefit is means to acquire a corresponding collective benefit. So, if it's based on these generalised propensities, democracy is altered or weakened, and tends to turn historically into a competition for the acquisition and retention of political power, which is often used for the exchange of social roles.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 4)

    3/13«We can have a situation where the scientific research is directly related to the “preferences” of the market; which means there may be a specific correspondence between the market and the trends of research. In this case the market can prop up directly the results of scientific and technological research. But the schedules of reinforcement defining the social and economic interactions are not only those characterised by the market (exchange), because people not only can exchange, but they can cooperate too. However only a small number of people understand that they also benefit from cooperation, and similarly understand they benefit from pure and applied research which unfolds mainly outside the market.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 4)

    4/13«Does it work better a democracy based on conflict than a democracy based on cooperation? And why? Democracy is a system, as Churchill put it: "the worst form of government, except for all the others." But humanity has not yet designed a better one. So, it's a system that would run at its best, if all people had levels of knowledge based on the same assumptions, namely if they had sequences of behaviors having a common reference base. In short - let's say - if people had the same “cultural” level, that is if they shared the same kind of “culture” about the scientific models of social organization. Specifically a model of democracy where everyone's political behavior should aim to keep private needs totally disjointed from collective needs, and the set of "opinions” and “values” should be comparable with the set of scientific regularities, especially of behavior.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 4)

    5/13«The real common-sense models of social organization should be analysed according to a scientific theory of behavior, to avoid an explanation of democracy founded on its dysfunctions. Studying democracy apart from the scientific theory of behavior is not a good starting point to build an explication of democracy. It's not methodologically correct, since it does not allow us to identify the hidden variables, the “frictions”, also present in the context of social behaviors.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 4)

    6/13«If the behavior science were an ordered (and basically axiomatic) system, able to give an effective contribution to the problems of our society, in terms not of “opinions” and “values” but at least of means to achieve the objectives defined by the democratic system, trying to make them comparable with the scientific regularities, then it would be recognized in an intersubjective way. I don't know if this goal can be reached. But since behavior science can't solve everything, that is the problems regarding “opinions” and “values”, we would have just a basis of topics on which we should rely. In the present state of knowledge, it's sufficient that “opinions” and “values” are comparable with science. That is the basis of structural “rationality” which now we lack. But the regularities of the science of behavior must be kept separate from personal and social objectives to be achieved, which are essentially “opinions” and “values”.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 4)

    7/13«Anyway, although the science of behavior is not mature, a good portion of it is known. We already know that all (operant) behaviors are "learned", and that punishment doesn't work removing clearly a given behavior by the set of behaviors “learned” by an organism. And we also know the behaviors belonging to our past history are necessarily repeated in the presence of certain stimuli, and living organisms are more reinforced by small early (immediate) rewards, than by larger later (mediate) rewards, unless they have “learned” the contrary. It would be actually a huge advancement to "know" that every behavior is "learned" (also economics, ethics, social norms, rules of law and so on), i.e. that every behavior is conditioned by the relation between organism (as a whole) and the (natural and social) environmental stimuli that are similar to the schedules of reinforcement in the experimental context. These findings, in addition, allow us to better interpret the meanings of “globalization” and “multiculturalism” that today are quite confused.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 4)

    8/13«In summary, the behaviors of individuals and groups are conditioned by a multiplicity of stimuli (schedules, but the same term can also be used in talking about the natural and social environment) arising from the complex processes of socialization. Only some of these schedules can be ascribed to the market; the others depend on the multiple social institutions and relations. The market in most cases adapts itself to the generalized model of socialization, the current “culture”. [...] In effect the set of objectives to be pursued from mankind - in the present state of knowledge - depends on random processes (concerning “opinions”, “values” and technological results) that, at present, cannot be classified within functional relations between phenomena, which constitute as many structural regularities.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 4)

    9/13«What do educational processes depend on? They depend on society. What does society depend on? In our Western world, it depends on democracy, i.e. on how society is organised. Based on what is society organized? On common sense. It's a vicious circle. So, let's start by changing this vicious circle. Let's start by asking citizens to never use punishments in educational processes. Let's make sure they study the science of behavior seriously. Let's “teach” them to distinguish clearly between private and collective benefits.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 4)

    10/13«To say that an employee didn't comply with the protocol is a trivial explanation. But what about her/his past history? What would operant conditioning be helpful to, if organisms didn't keep “track” of this conditioning, if behaviors once reinforced didn't become steady? How has this protocol been “taught”? What type of "personality" has been conditioned by this protocol? It's not enough just to “teach” a protocol, as if the person had no past history. It is not enough because the instructors work in a “factory of behaviors” and so they should know all variables involved in the conditioning process. We must ensure the set of protocol’s schedules be comparable with the set of schedules contingent to the behaviors belonging to the worker’s past history, corresponding with the set of all other stimuli contingent to the worker’s behavior over a lifetime. Protocols should never be concurrent with other schedules corresponding to the worker’s behaviors outside the workplace.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 4)

    11/13«Escape and avoidance express the lack of isomorphism between behavior and environment, which makes it impossible for an organism to achieve specific sequences of instrumental behaviors. Therefore the so-called negative reinforcers should be considered constraints the environment imposes on the organism, given his/her inability to achieve instrumental behaviors corresponding to those environmental limits. The response to the negative stimulus, to the negative reinforcer, is still a behavior, whether of escape or avoidance. If it's a behavior, it must necessarily be positively reinforced. Necessarily. Otherwise the organism does not escape. […] Aversive experimental stimuli should therefore be interpreted as (technological) boundaries of the experimental environment, to which the organism responds with the only behaviors that the lab allows him/her to accomplish.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 4)

    12/13«Of course the environmental stimuli can be natural or artificial (technological), but they can be social too. Specifically the set of legal and ethical laws and the social customs and practices, in short the “culture” of a given social group, are all limits and constraints that prevent or require certain kinds of behavior. Punishment can be explained only if we include it in this theoretical framework.»


  • Video-interview to History of Behavior Analysis (Part 4)

    13/13«To conclude, if we reinforce the organism "negatively" (using punishment to prevent a given sequence of behaviors) and we leave a way open, in practice we give the organism the cue to achieve the same positive reinforcer in another way. In this regard, we can make concurrent to the aversive situation a more rewarding reinforcement schedule concerning a sequence of behaviors totally disjoint from those which are harmful or prohibited. And this should be at the root of all the educational processes. The administration of any punishment to prevent the organism from realizing a behavioral sequence, which is obviously positively oriented, is a cursory method. Skinner said that we should not use it, and he was right.»

I gave this interview in 2010, as a contribution to the webproject History of Behavior Analysis. In 2016 the video interview was published in the youtube channel “Behavior Analysis History”  with some changes I made in English subtitles (the speech is in Italian language ); it was reported also in Comporte-se, main Brazilian web portal on behavior analysis.

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